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Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys
Live at Mechanics Hall

Review By Steven Stone
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CD Number: Acoustic Disc ACD-59 

 

  Oftentimes when a reviewer calls an album "historically important" he means boring. But on Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys Live at Mechanics Hall you get an album of vibrant music that also happens to document Bill Monroe during a time when he did little commercial recording. Done by a young bluegrass fan named David Grisman in 1963 in the Worcester, Massachusetts, Mechanics Hall, this disc captures an entire 42:29 set including introductions and on-stage patter. Monroe's band during this period included Del McCoury on guitar and lead vocals, Bill Keith on banjo and baritone vocals, Bessie Lee on acoustic bass, and Joe Stuart on fiddle and bass vocals. Monroe's daughter Melissa Monroe sings lead on two tracks and New England local Mitchell "Bea" Lily joins Monroe's band for one selection.

The CD's song roster combines many Monroe standards with some less-performed and recorded songs. Monroe originals "On and On," "Footprints in the Snow," "Rawhide," "Uncle Pen," "Blue Moon of Kentucky," and "Blue Ridge Mountain Blues" join a Buck Owens honky tonk number "Love's Gonna Live Here Again," and traditional tunes including "John Henry," "I Saw the Light," "Y'all Come" and "Muleskinner Blues." Monroe's rendition of this last number displays his power and panache. From his opening mandolin kick-off through the last yodel Monroe aggressively drives this song forward. On his signature instrumental "Rawhide" Monroe's mandolin sounds more like a machine gun than a musical instrument. At times the mandolin's rhythm far outpaces the band's. At the song's conclusion Monroe apologizes for missing some notes.

Given the nature of the recording, done by an amateur fan on a fairly primitive tape recorder, the sound on Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys Live at Mechanics Hall is surprisingly good. Sure, there's some tape flutter and wow with occasionally brief dropouts and minor volume level fluctuations, but you can hear each instrument clearly and even the acoustic bass comes through remarkably well. In short the recording quality never gets in the way of the music. As with most Acoustic Disc releases Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys Live at Mechanics Hall includes extensive liner notes with copious amounts of pictures.

Because so few commercial recordings are available of Bill Monroe during the 60's, any serious bluegrass fan should rush to grab a copy of Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys Live at Mechanics Hall post haste. God bless David Grisman and his tape recorder.

 

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